Peru judge grants Berenson NY holiday

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2011 1:56 PM
Peru judge grants Berenson NY holiday

A Peruvian court has ruled that paroled U.S. activist Lori Berenson and her toddler son can travel to New York for the holidays, she and her father confirmed on Friday.

A three-judge appeals court on Wednesday overturned a lower court judge's ruling denying Berenson permission to travel, said Guillermo Gonzalez, spokesman for Peru's judicial system. He said she could leave the country from Dec. 16 to Jan. 11.

"I'm very glad that Peru is respecting its laws and human rights," Berenson's father, Mark, told The Associated Press by phone from Manhattan. "As Lori says, if she doesn't come home, let Interpol arrest her."

"She is not trying to ever break the law again," he added.

If she doesn't return to Peru by Jan. 11, the country's government could seek her extradition and return her to prison for violating parole, Gonzalez said.

Lori Berenson was paroled last year after serving 15 years for aiding leftist rebels, but she cannot leave Peru permanently until her sentence ends in 2015.

Her father said he is "petrified" a negative local reaction to the New York visit could prevent the trip, including celebrating his 70th birthday Dec. 29.

"My worry is that there's going to be screaming to stop this," he said. Some Peruvians consider her a terrorist, opposed her parole and have publicly insulted her on the street.

He said that as far as he knew, his 42-year-old daughter was still trying to buy a ticket for herself and son Salvador, who is 2 1/2.

"It's not going to be easy," he said. Flights are heavily booked and prices high at this time of year.

Reached by the AP, Lori Berenson confirmed her court permission but added by text message: "I am not speaking to the press."

She has been repeatedly hounded and mobbed by Peruvian news media, which has occasionally frightened young Salvador. Last month, one TV channel obtained her new address and showed video of her home on television, her father said.

"It was very dangerous," he added. "The (U.S.) Embassy complained."

"It's just not fair to Salvador or to her," he said. "They used her like she's a celebrity and she just wants to be a low-profile person and get on with her life and be a good citizen."

He said he would appeal to President Ollanta Humala to send his daughter home.

Humala could by law commute her sentence but has not indicated whether he might do so. The AP sought to reach a presidential palace spokesman for comment but its calls were not immediately returned.

Lori Berenson is separated from Salvador's father, Anibal Apari, whom she met in prison and who serves as her lawyer. He told the AP he signed documents letting her travel with the child.

Mark Berenson said his daughter is looking forward to seeing relatives she hasn't met since her 20s, including his 96-year-old aunt, and that he wants his grandson, who loves trees, see the New York Botanical Garden's holiday display.

Since her initial parole in May 2010, Lori Berenson repeatedly regret for aiding the rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.

Arrested in 1995, the former MIT student was accused of helping the rebels plan an armed takeover of Congress, an attack that never happened.

A military court convicted her the following year and sentenced her to life in prison for sedition. But after intense U.S. government pressure, she was retried in civil courts in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years for terrorist collaboration.

Berenson was unrepentant at the time of her arrest, but softened during years of sometimes harsh prison conditions, eventually being praised as a model prisoner.

Yet she is viewed by many as a symbol of the 1980-2000 rebel conflict that claimed some 70,000 lives. The fanatical Maoist Shining Path movement did most of the killing, while Tupac Amaru was a lesser player.

Berenson has acknowledged helping the rebels rent a safe house, where authorities seized a cache of weapons. But she insists she didn't know guns were being stored there. She denies ever belonging to Tupac Amaru or engaging in violent acts.

In an interview with the AP last year, Berenson said she was deeply troubled at having become Peru's "face of terrorism."

Its most famous prisoner, she also became a politically convenient scapegoat, she said.

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Associated Press writer Martin Villena contributed to this report.